APG-U.S. Account Planning Awards: Driving Lessons

Agency: Fallon McElligott
Client: BMW
The task was to teach people what driving a BMW was really all about.
Coming out of the 1980s, BMW sales sank and the brand needed to evolve. Conventional wisdom dictated that perhaps the BMW of the ’90s should become warmer and friendlier to erase the materialistic, status-oriented imagery of the ’80s. But in studying the data, we uncovered an alarming fact. Nearly half of the luxury-car intenders ranked “fun to drive” as their No. 1 criterion, but very few of them actually chose BMW. So while performance was the brand’s essence, most of these drivers were purchasing vehicles like Mercedes and Lexus.
We began a qualitative research to uncover the meaning of this mystery. We recruited recent purchasers of BMW and competitive vehicles. We armed them with dictaphones, cameras and diaries with which they answered such questions as “How would you recognize your car if you were driving it blindfolded?”
Analysis of the diaries yielded some insights. First, non-BMW drivers truly think their cars are fun to drive and better than anything else on the road. But we found their definition of performance one dimensional: “Fun to drive” was only about acceleration.
Secondly, BMW drivers discuss performance differently: They talk about handling, maneuvering, passing, braking as well as accelerating. They use language that is more graphic, precise and intimate than drivers of any other car. To BMW owners, performance is more than driving fast. As one owner put it, “My car responds so quickly to my command, it’s as though the car and I are one.”
These findings led us to the conclusion that drivers of other cars simply have no idea what a “fun” driving experience could be unless they’d personally been behind the wheel of a BMW. We then realized the advertising task was not to change our personality, but to present “performance” in a way that would educate people to appreciate the BMW driving difference.
We exposed consumers to a range of “performance themes” through videos, picture boards and objects. We found the overall idea of “responsiveness” most closely matched owners’ perceptions of the BMW difference. In other words, “responsiveness” spoke to the car’s ability to react instantly to the driver’s request to maneuver, shift, turn, brake and accelerate. And when other car owners saw performance as responsiveness versus acceleration, they began to understand that BMW offered something their current cars couldn’t.
The brief, then, was to make “Ultimate Driving Machine” newly relevant to luxury-car intenders by inviting them to experience BMW’s responsiveness for themselves. We thought that by simulating the actual driving experience, we could help people “feel” what they were missing. And if we demonstrated the various components of responsiveness in the commercials (braking, shifting, cornering, etc.), the idea would speak to their everyday driving needs and hopefully lead to reconsideration.
During its first year in the market, BMW sold the most cars in history and hit its highest consideration levels ever. The campaign has been a great success.
Vic Doolan, President
Jim McDowell, VP, Marketing
Baba Shetty, Man., Marketing Communications
AGENCY: Fallon McElligott
Fred Senn, Partner, Group Dir.
Ginny Grossman, Group Dir.
Megan Kent, Group Planning Dir.
Betsy Liegey, Account Planner
Bruce Bildsten, Group Head, Creative
Tom Lichtenheld, Assoc. Group Head, Creative